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them; nay, that it was not even his to give, but that God the Father would prepare it for them, and them only, whose fuperior merits should entitle them to a participation of it.
Now, though these words were at that time addrefsed solely to James and John, they may, I think, with the utmost propriety be applied, and perhaps were at first meant by our Saviour himself, as a warning to all mankind; a deserved censure on all the exorbitant desires, extravagant wifhes, and idle prayers, which men from time to time pour out before the Divine Being
As prayer, therefore, has always been looked upon as the indispensable duty of tian, it may not be improper in this place to endeavour to remove any errors which may have crept into the practice of fo important and folemn an office of our religion, and to lead men into a right method in the performance of it.
As man is a being too insufficient of himself to supply his own wants, fo is he for the most part too ignorant even to know them; ever too folicitous for the attainment of those things which are most useless and insignificant; too indolent and remiss in the search of that on which his happiness does more immediately depend. As a fervant, therefore, it is his duty to intreat his Master's favour and protection; as a creature, it is his interest to address his Creator. And herein the nature of those gifts which we require at the hands of God
is carefully to be considered, left, if we ask amiss, we receive not.
We must be extremely cautious of requesting any thing unfit for God to grant, or for us to implore; for if we seriously reflect on the divine mercy, and on our own unworthiness, the proudest and the most selfish will be obliged to confefs, that we have most of us, though not as much as we defire, yet. as inuch perhaps as we really stand in need of, and all of us infinitely more than even the best can deserve. We should never, therefore, apply to God for any thing which we have not, without first thanking him for what we have. Of the ten cripples mentioned by the apostle, nine prayed, whilst the tenth praised God; and him, we are told, our Saviour regarded most
In regard to prayer and thanksgiving, which, though it is to be feared, are not, yet ought always to be inseparable, it may be affirmed, that not to acknowledge the enjoyments and privileges we have received, and hold of God, is in effect to deny that we receive them from him; and not to apply to him for what we stand in need of, is to deny either our own indigence, or his power of remov
Were our sense of favours received equal to our wants, our prayers perhaps would be fewer, and our thanksgivings in much greater number; but poverty and necessity is the common lot of all mankind, whilft gratitude and generosity are confined to the few.
When men remove from the busy scene of life, from the noise and bustle of the world, to retire into themselves, to consult their own breasts, and address themselves in prayer to the Supreme Being; when they kneel before their Maker, should not the thought of his presence, of laying open our hearts to, and conversing with our great Creator, strike an awe upon the mind sufficient to banish every wicked, and every idle thought, and fit our tempers and dispositions for fo folemn an occafion? But it is even then, perhaps, when the secret desires of men, which had been long brooding in their minds, begin to shew and form themselves into prayer; it is even then too often that they are most unguarded and extravagant, and offend God the most, even in the very act of worshipping him.
Now in this great act of devotion there are several ways by which we may offend God, and prejudice ourselves; several methods, whose effects duly considered, may serve to convince us, that because we ask amiss, we receive not. We may ask for what we do not want, for what we do not deserve, for what may be hurtful to ourselves, or pernicious to others.
“ As it asketh some knowledge,” says the great Bacon, « to demand a question not impertinent, so it requireth some sense to make a wish not absurd.” Now, what is said of wishes, which are the secret prayers of the mind, may very properly be applied to prayer itself,
Give us all good things unasked, and avert from us every evil one, though we beg for it, was a celebrated prayer of the ancients; and in reality, to ask for what we do not want, to point out every particular blessing we would have bestowed on us, is an affront to that power to whom we offer up our prayers; we deny one of his attributes whilst we apply to him for the exertion of another; for what is it in effect but doubting his omniscience, not to suppose he is as well or much better acquainted with our neceílities than ourselves?
Nothing perhaps could more effectually conduce to our ruin, nothing would in all probability render us more perfectly miserable, than the success of all our vows, the completion of all our foolish and unreasonable desires; and it is hard to determine whether the goodness and mercy of the Almighty is most visible in bestowing on us that which we do not asks for, or denying us what we do.
But that the vanity of human dofires, and the extravagancy of inconsiderate prayers, may appear the more evident to us, let us take a cursory view of the most frequent objects of them.
Riches and power are, it must be allowed, the favourite, the darling blessings most generally in the mouths, as well as in the hearts of the greatest part of niankind; and yet, who but God can determine; who hut he can possibly foreknow whether those riches will make us happy, or that power truly great? Nay, upon deliberation, are they not much
more likely to make us miserable? Our pasfions, like the appetites of fick men, are generally bent and fixed on that which will be most pernicious to us.
The covetous man implores God by increasing his revenues, to add fuel to his avarice, and the prodigal wearies heaven with prayers, to grant him an opportunity of shortening his guilty days, and sinking under the weight of fin and misery.
When life is so full of real unavoidable ills, is it not strange that men should, with so much warmth and eagerness, beg for misery, and fue for ruin and destruction; that they should thus frustrate their own designs by the very means they make use of to promote them?
But things are apt to dazzle at a distance, or to deceive us when nigh, through a false glass, which, when brought close and examined, lose their form, and become a dead mass without colour or beauty.
Riches are often but a kind of wandering fire, that leads us astray into the paths of vice and folly; and power given to the weak, or to the wicked, is but as a sword in the hands of a madman, which for a while throws terror and destruction round about, and then is pointed against the breast of him that wears it.
Again, if we turn our eyes towards the candidates for glory and empire among the great, what poor
and unsatisfactory pleasures, what mean and trifling rewards does ambition beftow upon her votaries! Care encircles her crowns, and terror haunts her palaces; her feasts are poisoned with fear, and her triumphs Аа 2